“We’ve come to give back because you gave so much to us”: Abi, Stella and Bree, Volunteer Family Extraordinaire

Abi and Stella are no strangers to HOPE House. Now 14 years old, the twins’ mom, Bree, has been accessing our services for a number of years and the three of them have come through our doors once more; this time, though, they arrive with a desire to give back.


They’re here, they proudly announce, to sign up to volunteer for the Guelph Community Backpack Market. Partnering with the Guelph Neighbourhood Support Coalition, HOPE House coordinates the collection of school supplies to provide every child in need with a brand new, fully stocked backpack.


“When we were little we had a bit less than we do now,” explains Stella. “We didn’t have enough money to get backpacks and supplies for school, but we had the opportunity to come here and get some and now we’ve come to give back because you gave so much to us”.


When asked how the Backpack Project benefited them at school or in their personal life, Abi thoughtfully replies, “I had supplies that I needed for my work and it made me feel like there’s someone who cares because we got everything for school, for our education, which is very important. It really helps because you don’t feel different from everyone else at school. And you actually have a nice backpack.” As a young teen with a learning disability, Abi tells me that not feeling different is really important because it can be isolating.


The children, though, are not the only beneficiaries of the backpack program.


The Guelph Community Backpack Project is an accessible and dignified way for people to get the school supplies they need at pay what you can prices including free. Bree is a single parent with three children, two with disabilities. She got sick eight years ago and for quite some time, things were pretty tight as she was paying student loans and too sick to work. Bree utilized the Backpack Program as soon as it began, seven years ago when the twins were just seven years old.


“I called around and I was trying to find out how I could get some help to get them what they needed for school because  between clothes, indoor shoes, outdoor shoes, rain boots, winter boots…it’s always a very stressful time. And sometimes people from outside your circle can be judgmental. You’re trying to do your best, but it doesn’t always look pretty,” shares Bree.


“I was told about HOPE House, so I came and I couldn’t believe it. Stella and Abi got to choose a backpack, and I was really excited because HOPE House honoured that I didn’t have to put down the gender of my children, I could just put down preference as well. So I didn’t have children wearing rainbows and ponies when they really would feel uncomfortable with that. I think that’s wonderful”.


The dignity the market approach fosters is also imperative to Bree.


“I’m really excited that you’re doing a market now because it’s less waste. I think sliding scale is wonderful. There’s absolute dignity. I can put my money other places that we really really need because there are things that aren’t covered for Abi along the way, like, an iPad. I know she needs it. I just couldn’t provide it. This is a one stop shop and we face less stigma. It takes a little stress off”.


Finally, volunteering is a win-win for this family. Not only do we here at HOPE House benefit from Abi, Stella, and Bree’s help, but, in return, the twins get valuable hours needed for their future graduation that also helps youth acquire skills that transfer to employment opportunities later down the road. As Stella shares, “I wanted to come and volunteer not only to give back to help people who maybe have less or just need help but also because I really need some volunteer hours”. “It also grows our confidence” Abi adds.


For Bree volunteering means connection. “It brings me back into the community because when I got sick, I got stuck at home for a very long time. I felt like I had no purpose, no way to contribute, interact, connect and it got very dark. I was always very active before and it was quite shocking and I desperately want to get back out and the best way to do this is to give back to the places that have helped me”.


To donate to this program please visit our website at https://lakesidehopehouse.ca/donate-now/.


To sponsor this program please contact Mary Jackson at mjackson@lakesidehopehouse.ca.


Categories: Backpacks, Community, Kids Programs, Volunteer